After months of speculation, Amazon on Friday introduced a digital subscription service that allows subscribers unlimited access to a library ebooks and audiobooks for US$10 a month.
The service, Kindle Unlimited, offers a Netflix-style, all-you-can-read approach to more than 600,000 ebooks, including blockbuster series like The Hunger Games and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, nonfiction titles like Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, as well as literary fiction and classics.
So far, however, none of the five biggest publishers appear to be making their books available through the service.
HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster, for example, are not participating, representatives from the three companies confirmed.
Penguin Random House and Macmillan declined to comment, but a search on Amazon suggests that they are not making their books available.
As a result, some popular titles were noticeably absent when the service began on Friday. Subscribers who want to read Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken or Veronica Roth’s Divergent will not find those books on Kindle Unlimited, at least not yet.
Books that can be downloaded free as part of the subscription have an orange Kindle Unlimited icon under the title, along with a price tag of US$0.00.
Because many authors publish with more than one house, subscribers may find that they can download certain books by, for example, Margaret Atwood or Michael Chabon, but not other titles by the same authors.
The introduction of the service comes as the relationship between the major publishers and Amazon has grown increasingly tense. The online retailer faces growing scrutiny for its dominance of the ebook market and its tough negotiating tactics with publishers.
Amazon and Hachette have been engaged in a lengthy public standoff over ebook terms that remains unresolved.
Among the imprints making their books available to the service are Scholastic, which publishes The Hunger Games series, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Media outlets reported The Kindle Unlimited service this week, when Amazon accidentally posted a promotional video for the subscription model. The video was quickly taken down from Amazon’s Web site, but not before technology bloggers noticed.
In offering the service, Amazon is entering an increasingly crowded marketplace. It is set to compete with publishing startups offering similar services, like Scribd and Oyster, which charge a similar subscription fee and have comparable digital libraries.
Scribd has about 400,000 titles and charges subscribers US$9 a month. Oyster has more than 500,000 titles available and gives readers unlimited access for US$10 a month.
With similar pricing models, the competition among ebook subscription services could be over the books and authors that are included.
Scribd’s subscription service includes books from more than 900 publishers, including Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Wiley. Oyster offers titles from six of the top 10 American publishers, said a company representative.
Publishers receive payments whenever users download one of their books and read a certain percentage.
“An increasing number of people want to read in this way, just like they consume movies this way and listen to music this way,” Oyster chief executive Eric Stromberg said. “The unlimited model is just a better experience.”
Still, Amazon is entering the arena with a huge advantage: its dominance within digital publishing, and its vast audiobook library, which it is bundling into the subscription service. Amazon owns Audible and is including more than 2,000 digital audio titles in Kindle Unlimited.
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